Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Whiplash

January 23rd, 2015 by MC

A few nights ago, in the sleepy haze that follows nightly prayer but precedes full unconsciousness, Mrs. MC and I discussed how we discipline our kids, what we might change, etc. Nowadays, no right-thinking parent ever defends corporal punishment, even if they sometimes practice it. It’s time outs, privileges withheld, that’s it. But I am not a right-thinking parent. I do spank the kids, as a last resort which seems to come up way too often. She almost never does, although she has no strong objection to me being the heavy. I am far from settled in my opinion about corporal punishment. I can certainly see how it could be viewed as less than Christlike, and I suppose it’s possible that it does some psychological damage to kids. My main justification is, well, pretty much everyone did it for all of human history up until the last few decades, including many wonderful parents whose kids grew up to be wonderful people. It might be bad, but it can’t be THAT bad, right?

I spelled out some of these thoughts to my wife. Then, in the aforementioned sleepy haze, I started to blurt out some half-baked speculations about the future of child-rearing. What if, ten or twenty years from now, the consensus turns completely around? What if all right-thinking people decide that, whatever psychological damage is done by spanking, it isn’t nearly as bad as putting a child in time out, isolating him from human contact, and making him feel rejected by the parent? There was a book that came out a few years ago entitled, I think somewhat facetiously, “Bring Back The Lash.” It was not a “spare the rod, spoil the child” parenting tract. It was instead an indictment of the modern correctional system, which eschews all forms of corporal punishment in favor of long prison sentences. Which is more cruel? To flog someone for a moment and then admonish him to mend his ways? Or to isolate him from society for years on end? Of course, there are reasons for us to lock people away besides merely punishment, but the point is that flogging is not obviously more cruel than punishments that do currently pass 8th Amendment muster.

And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.

So really, those deserving punishment may well prefer a momentary lashing over a long (yea, very long) period of isolation.

The current consensus against corporal punishment is supported by statistics showing that kids who are spanked regularly perform lower on all sorts of measures. But of course this is skewed by the fact that well-behaved college-educated parents generally follow whatever are considered to be best practices. As I always say whenever confronted with any parenting “study”: If the JAMA came out and said that watching “The Three Stooges” for two hours every day was an aid to brain development, within five years kids who watched the Stooges as toddlers would show noticeably higher intelligence in kindergarten. That would be true even if the original study were bogus.

This is not a brief in favor of spanking. Just a speculation about how transitory the current consensus might be. Although I have to say, I chuckled to myself a bit when I imagined some hipster moms in 2030 talking about how they NEVER put their kids in timeout, unlike those Neanderthal parents who act like they’ve never even heard of a simple and humane swat on the bottom.

Comments (17)
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January 23rd, 2015 02:02:03
17 comments

Bruce Charlton
January 23, 2015

I think it is vital that the punishment be immediate or as rapid as possible – the younger the kids the more rapid it must be.

Otherwise the child has long forgotten (both consciously, and more important subconsciously) why they are being punished, and it is perceived as arbitrary cruelty – and nothing is learned.

In other words the punishment must be temporally associated with the crime in order to be a deterrent. Basic ‘conditioning’ psychology, in fact!

A loud and scary shout, or holding and staring into the eyes for a few seconds, is often sufficient for a ‘good child’. Or maybe a slap – especially if the parent can’t produce a scary shout.

But of course not all children are good.


Vader
January 23, 2015

“Which is more cruel? To flog someone for a moment and then admonish him to mend his ways? Or to isolate him from society for years on end?”

Put that way, it seems clear, doesn’t it?


Agellius
January 23, 2015

Yes, since liberalism must always “progress”, it seems that as soon as a liberal dogma becomes established orthodoxy, it won’t be long before it’s time to move “beyond” it.


Nephi bar Lehi
January 23, 2015

Far be it from me to criticize humane corporal punishment, (even I occasionally deserved it as a child!) I am not sure that sparing the rod means punishment at all. There was this dream my father had, that you might be interested in.


G.
January 23, 2015

There is learning that the human brain is able to do when in pain that can’t happen otherwise. It makes sense biologically why this would be so.

Also, I’m pretty sure kids are hardwired to need someone to exert force on them. It’s how dominance and hierarchy is established. That’s not the same as corporal punishment, of course. Time-outs and deprivations are equally assertions of force.

My guess is that most criminals would choose the lash over imprisonment with other prisoners, and the number of lashes would have to get really high before the choice seemed like much of a choice.


Robert A. Heinlein
January 23, 2015

I do not understand objections to `cruel and unusual’ punishment. While a judge should be benevolent in purpose, his awards should cause the criminal to suffer, else there is no punishment — and pain is the basic mechanism built into us by millions of years of evolution which safeguards us by warning when something threatens our survival. Why should society refuse to use such a highly perfected survival mechanism?


Tinkerwrks
January 23, 2015

Yes, but who would you have administer the lashing to the criminals? You certainly wouldn’t want someone who enjoyed causing pain to do it.


Vader
January 23, 2015

I believe Heinlein made same point in a different context. You do not want drill instructors who are bullies; you only want drill instructors who the recruits think are bullies.


G.
January 24, 2015

Why not?


Vader
January 24, 2015

According to Heinlein, bullies are inconsistent in their bullying and get bored with their victims too soon. A good drill instructor is relentless and evenhanded.


Bruce Charlton
January 25, 2015

I would suppose that you do not *want* drill instructors who are bullies full stop – on the basis that what motivates bullies (as I understand the term) goes against the objectives of the military. A bully simply uses his position of authority (to the greatest possible degree) to take satisfaction in fulfilling his desire to inflict pain and suffering.

But the term bully does cover a fair range, and I daresay that some definitions are compatible with effective leadership.


Zen
January 25, 2015

I came across an interesting article that puts much of the problem of addiction on poor relationships. It overstates it, as I know of people who have become addicted, whilst in the best circumstances. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936.html

Still, a punishment should not make things worse.


bookslinger
January 26, 2015

Zen, the synthesis/resolution is found in dynamic analysis as opposed to static analysis. It can be seen by looking at or for childhood traumatic experiences. Unlike the lower animals (in the linked article it talks about rats removed from their cage and then put into “Rat Park”), humans often take their cages with them.

So instead of looking only at current circumstances, if you look at childhood circumstances, specifically adverse/traumatic/abusive events, you can then see a correlation.

In very informal surveys that some of my friends and I have done, we’ve noted that over 50% of the homosexuals (men and women) we’ve known were sexually abused as minors before age 16.

Similarly, about 90% of morbidly obese (BMI>=40) women were sexually abused as minors. And over 50% of morbidly obese men had some form of “ACE” (Adverse Childhood Experience to use the CDC term).

I also think a distinction must be made between corporal punishment by a parent where the child understands the connection between offense and consequence, and the much different case where the parent beats the child for no apparent reason. (I remember a neighbor girl from my childhood who received a weekly belt-whipping from her father merely because he was “sure” she did something that week that merited it. Well, after a while, she figured that if she was going to be beaten anyway, she should at least do something to “even things up”. )

To relate it back to your linked article, it may appear that the addict has all the opportunity for the types of bonds/relationships that would preclude addiction under the theory put forth by the article’s author. But the “broken-ness” from childhood carries on or carries through to adulthood. If the emotional/mental wounds aren’t healed, the person may have what looks to be a decent marriage, job, etc., but the emotional/mental connections aren’t really there.

There’s a big difference in the psychological effects of trauma in childhood and trauma in adulthood. Trauma in childhood occurs while the personality is still forming, and it becomes part-and-parcel of the personality. Trauma in adulthood doesn’t have the same permanence or effect on the psyche/personality.


Zen
January 26, 2015

Bookslinger – I am suspicious of your statistics.

Partly, it is that I am just suspicious when there is an explanation for almost every addiction or fault. These may all be influences, but let’s not leave out the largest one of all… our own agency.


Bookslinger
January 26, 2015

Zen, granted, agency plays a part. But how much of an individual is a “meat computer” reacting to the inputs of nature and nurture, versus how much is agency, only the Great Judge knows.


Zen
January 26, 2015

The danger is over-emphasizing that, is that it reduces all of your faults and sins to things others have done and you merely become “things to be acted up” and not “things to act”. It reduces or conceals our agency.

If we err, we ought to err on the side of agency and responsibility.


Teddy R.
January 26, 2015

“But the term bully does cover a fair range, and I daresay that some definitions are compatible with effective leadership.”

You read my mind.

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